The Cat and The Mouse - Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland (1900-90) was among the most successful American composers in the 20th century. Orchestras continue to perform his music, which is said to capture the open expanses of the Western United States with its widely-spaced harmonies, and hymn or folk-like melodies. Classical music audiences are familiar with the music that Copland wrote during the middle and later parts of his life, including Fanfare for the Common Man, Appalachian Spring, Rodeo and Billy the Kid, however, during his 20s, his music sounded more experimental. One of Copland's first compositions to get published was The Cat and the Mouse, written for the piano in 1920. Listen and watch the score here.

Jean de la Fontaine's poem, "Le Vieux Chat et la Jeune Souris" ("The Old Cat and the Young Mouse"), inspired Copland to write this piece. In the piece, the listener hears the young, excited mouse chased by the cat. Sometimes, it sounds like the animals are in the piano! Throughout the work sections of very fast, virtuosic passages, alternate with periods of the animals pausing to catch their breath. The music moves into a climax before the tolling bell signals the end. You might hear the influence of Claude Debussy in Copland's use of the running sixteenth notes between the hands, crunchy-sounding added-note chords, and the recurring pentatonic motive (heard at the very beginning).

Listen for the following:

  • The pentatonic motive. Heard at the beginning and appears throughout.
  • The chiming clock.
  • The dance section.
  • The funeral bells when the cat catches the mouse.